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European automakers to concentrate on affordable, sustainable mobility

European automakers to concentrate on affordable, sustainable mobility (Photo: Pexels)

The European Automobile Manufacturers’ Association (ACEA) called for a comprehensive plan to transition to zero-emission mobility in Europe during a meeting it chaired at the IAA 2019 conference in Frankfurt, Germany on Sept 11. 

Carlos Tavares, president of ACEA, stated that the association wants to take a leading position in helping society ensure safe, affordable and sustainable mobility for every citizen. “We take the freedom of mobility as something which is fundamental to our democracies,” said Tavares. “That means that we need to look at it in a 360-degree approach. We can’t only look at the mobility devices, because the mobility devices are now going to be zero-emission vehicles and they are on sale.” 

The next big challenge for sustainable mobility is to make mobility both affordable and accessible to large swathes of Europe. Tavares pointed out that sustainable mobility also encompassed everything related to the carbon footprint – including emissions arising from energy production, battery manufacturing, and battery recycling, amongst other processes. 

One way Europe could curb carbon emissions from production could be to source and manufacture components locally within the continent, and not ship parts thousands of miles across the globe. For instance, battery production is dominated by China, which controls roughly three-quarters of the global lithium-ion battery market. Shipping batteries from China to Europe incurs significant emissions – a situation ACEA hopes to circumvent in the future through initiatives and support provided by the European Commission. 

“The ACEA strongly supports this initiative both from a strategic viewpoint to support the competitiveness of our industry in Europe, but also from a purely environmental perspective where we don’t want to move batteries around the world,” said Tavares. 

Questions were raised on how the ACEA will respond to advocacy groups fighting for a decarbonized future, and how the European automotive industry could placate concerned groups with a promise of building a society that produces much lower emissions than today. Tavares explained that sustainable and affordable mobility is a very complex issue and that the association is open to dialogue with NGOs and environment support groups and jointly working towards making the landscape better for everyone. 

Pushing society towards sustainable transport is possibly the most critical factor in the sustainability rhetoric. Tavares likened this to a chicken-and-egg problem, as people would not be convinced to move towards electric vehicles in the absence of a prevalent electric-charging infrastructure network across Europe, and charging stations would not materialize if there are not enough people using electric vehicles to begin with. 

ACEA’s 2019 progress report cited the presence of less than 145,000 electric-charging points across the entire European Union – a far cry from the 2.8 million charging points that will be required to be set up by 2030 according to the current sustainability goals. An even more significant issue is the distribution of the network, with the Netherlands, Germany, France, and the U.K. accounting for over 75% of all the charging points set up across the EU, pointing to a very sparse distribution across the rest of the EU. 

The ACEA report portrayed this as a dire problem, as there is a clear connection between the number of charging points per 100 km of road to the market share of electric vehicles (EVs) to conventional vehicles. The EU countries that have less than one charging point per 100 km of road have an unenviable EV market share of less than 1%. 

In the bigger picture, governments would have to pick and choose the battles they fight, especially with the budget deficits and already heavy tax burden on most EU societies. “On one side, you have to spend more on infrastructure, and from the other side, we have less revenue from fuel. How we manage this is a big political issue for countries and the EU, and is something that needs to be addressed,” said Tavares.